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2021 Through the Eyes of the Rivals League, The Finale

Hey there, my name is Jakub Tóth and while you have probably never heard of me, I’ve been playing some form of professional Magic since I was 14 when I highrolled a PTQ for Pro Tour Honolulu and kept grinding Pro Tours from that point. I had a few year hiatus as a full-time poker player, then started working as an equity trader in the Czech company Quantlane, which somehow brought me back to Magic. A few incredible hot runs in qualifiers later I found myself in the Rivals League, so here we are. To celebrate the end of the year, I’ll be breaking 2021 in this four-part series. I’ll be overviewing the changes to Magic, the pro scene and every major tournament from the past year.

If you missed the rest of the series, you can catch up with everything here:

 

 

Header - October

Worlds is slowly but surely coming and that can mean only one thing – time to leak the deck lists! Players submitted on the 4th of Monday and on Tuesday, the whole world knew what everyone was playing.

A few days ago while randomly calling with Ivan, he told me a bit about the sweet Demilich deck they’re testing that he really hopes to play. Unfortunately, they decided not to, but the coolest kid on the block Ondřej saved us all by at least posting it on Twitter.

In the end, three teammates – Stanislav Cifka, Ondřej Stráský and Arne Huschenbeth – settled on Izzet Turns combo which is a deck on everyone’s radar (some calls on banning Alrund’s Epiphany were already heard before the tournament). Taking a ton of turns was also on the mind of the biggest team of the tournament (four players so 25 percent of the field) which brought the Grixis version of the combo. Stan is quite happy about this as and after doing a bit of testing with leaked deck lists, he loves his matchup against Grixis as their version has more counterspells. Stan likes to exaggerate (duh), but if he’s right, then his team would be in a great spot.

It’s Friday and I’m actually excited to watch Magic coverage for the first time in a while. I’ll obviously be cheering for Stan and Ondřej, but I’m going to just write down small bits of everything that catches my eye here.

1. Ondřej wasn’t super excited about his BW deck on camera, but he’s already writing us celebratory messages about his first win in our group chat.

2. PV also has a fine BW deck which we saw being drafted on camera, and it turned out a lot better than I expected when I saw like 10 playables after the first two packs, and he dismantled Rei Sato with a million Mind Rots in his first match.

3. Ondřej top-decks a two-outer to a big surprise of absolutely no one in match two, and a celebratory tweet about “three-O’ing” the pod followed soon after. Sam Pardee conquered the other pod.

4. Gabriel Nassif chose a wrong time to go for his signature move and timed out his first Constructed match for a rocky 1-3 start

5. Ondřej pulls out a total nail biting decider against Matt Sperling, winning with basically nothing in hand against full hand and active Lier, Disciple of the Drowned. He cycles with Divide by Zero for a perfect Test of Talents for Duress, allowing him to instantly top-deck Epiphany. Ivan immediately started pointing out mistakes from that match, but Stráča is in a full celebration mode as he is the sole undefeated player after the first day (five rounds) and needs a 2-3 score to make it to top four.

 

6. Ondřej won yet another match against PV and he is 6-0 now, which you love to see.

7. Imagine getting three byes in a 10 round World Championship. Such is life of professional highroller Stračísek, who has secured his top four with flawless 7-0 score. He played beautiful Magic that was a pleasure to watch, and I’m super happy for him. Two Americans are looking to join him; Matt Sperling and Samuel Pardee are in striking distance with a 5-2 score.

8. Sam Pardee was looking for his seventh win on camera at a 6-3 score against Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (who is 5-4) to guarantee his spot in top four, but his Mono-Green deck looked really outclassed in both games against Temur Dragon from Depraz. Both of these players will now have to sweat tiebreakers to play in the tiebreaker match (tiebreaking tiebreakers if you will).

9) All that Yuta Takahashi needed was to feel a little bit of pressure to start winning. He did the impossible and came back from 0-3 start to secure his spot in top four with a 7-3 record. Since the first three rounds were draft, he proved once again he is unbeatable in Constructed.

 

10. Eli Kassis is the only bustout with a 6-4 score, and Matt Sperling, Sam Pardee, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz and Jan Merkel will all play a tiebreaker match to decide who will join Stračman and Vendillion in the finals. Riley Knight proposes Commander as a way to decide this four-way tie, but I think they will play Standard.

11. There is one mystery that nobody will probably ever solve, and that is when Depraz plans to sideboard his two Kessig Naturalists and what they bring to the table, and apparently it’s the reason why Kanister can’t sleep at night.

12. Sam Pardee lost a triple win-and-in, mainly thanks to Depraz, who delivered three of Pardee’s five losses in the tournament. I guess this is the reason he played Temur Dragons – it crushes Mono-Green.

13. Mono-Green overall posted very poor performance; PV is not happy about his 4-6 finish.

14) Turns out one of the reasons why Ondřej is so successful is thanks to Twitter assistance.

15. In the final fight for the top four, two teammates, Matt Sperling and Jan Merkel, faced each other. Sperling had the first game basically fully locked, but Merkel pulled an “Ondřej” out of his bag – that is, drawing the perfect card every time, and with zero cards in hand, top-decked Epiphany completely turned the game around. That means we now have the full top four ready to battle it out for $70,000 first prize (and $18k fourth prize, so pretty big pay jumps).

 

16. Seth Manfield thinks it’s time to ban Alrund’s Epiphany as it completely wraps the format around itself.

17. Top four started with Jan Merkel pulling out Mono-Red Aggro (while playing Grixis combo) in game one against Ondřej, as he just killed him with some red 1/1s and triple Shock (Prismari Command) to the head. Ondřej wasted no time and quickly sideboarded in triple Burning Hands, which has the same mana cost as Smoldering Egg, and I guess Ondřej doesn’t look at anything else while sideboarding. He found out about this awesome misclick in his opening hand, and while it was probably not the reason he lost game two (reason was no second red mana against six discard spells), it certainly didn’t help.

Smoldering Egg // Ashmouth DragonBurning Hands

18. If you took a shot of vodka every time Mani Davoudi started his commentary with the word “Maria”, you would be in the hospital after the first two rounds of the day. Jokes aside, he’s an awesome caster and I love seeing him in the booth.

19. Yuta Takahashi won against mediocre draws from Depraz, so he moves on to a match against Merkel. He mulliganed to five and got dressed in the first game. He still put up a really good fight with triple Goldspan Dragon, but it took a little bit too long as Merkel managed to get triple Time Walk going. However, in the next two games, Merkel flooded quite a bit and Takahashi secured his spot in Grand Finals by going 9-0 in Standard so far.

20. Ondřej just casually looted with learn ability for his two outer Spikefield Hazard to stay in the game against Depraz in the lower bracket to tie first of the two (or three) Best-of-Three matches, which once again surprised nobody in our group chat. To quote Stan, “he screws up badly by not taking the Time Walk and just draws perfectly instead, unreal.” Well, I guess we got some content for coverage as a bonus.

 

21. One of my friends asked if Ondřej is out after losing the next game against Depraz, or if it’s “one of those convoluted triple round robin double elimination double tiebreaker match special structure”, and it looks like the latter is correct. We’re still cheering, but the comeback will have to be unreal.

22. Stráča started the comeback with mull to five against mull to five from Depraz, but Ondřej didn’t draw a single nonland against complete nuts. So now we’re in ultra comeback territory.

23. Depraz and Merkel battled it out in all three Best-of-Three matches, but in the end it was Depraz with a very explosive draw against Merkel’s one spell who will be playing Grand Finals. Depraz is probably super thrilled to face Takahashi in the finals, who has not lost a single match in the Standard during the whole tournament.

24. All right, here we go, the final match everyone has been waiting for – so I went to sleep and just rewatched the VOD later. Jean-Emmanuel Depraz with Temur Treasures versus Yuta Takahashi with Izzet Dragons. Their decks are kind of the same, but different (but still same). Yuta feels like the matchup is 50/50, while Depraz feels like an underdog here.

Goldspan DragonShatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer PassDragon's Fire

25. Jean-Emmanuel Depraz fought hard and even managed to win a game from mull to five, but tons of mulligans and very precise piloting of Yuta turned out to be too much for him to handle. Yuta Takahashi finished his insane Constructed winning streak and became World Champion, even having one spare match loss at the ready. Huge congratulations!

There’s a beef going on between Matt Sperling and Crokeyz, and the winner of this fight is Brad Nelson for sure.

 

Header - November

Innistrad: Crimson Vow is about to be released, so spoiler season is in a full swing. There is a lot of talk about the new cleave mechanic, which is well illustrated on this (totally real) card.

 

My girlfriend found this on Twitter during a party at Stan’s flat and it took us a while to find out what’s going on before we started laughing real hard. Whoever made this (sorry, couldn’t find the original), great job.

I’m learning a full spoiler from LSV’s ratings, which are so awesome that I have been reading them even during time periods when I was not playing Magic, and honestly a good reason alone to get premium membership here (by the way, I wasn’t forced to write this).

I started playing a little bit of Standard as another PT (with super flat payout though) is coming up in two weeks, and I have just one question – how on earth do you kill a Hullbreaker Horror? Luckily for me, it’s mostly my opponents trying to answer this question… by conceding, as I copied a sweet UR Horror deck from Seth Manfield, and I have just cruised from Bronze to Platinum with no losses (I know, impressive).

A few things got announced, mainly a way to qualify for the 2022 World Championship and a reminder of who made it to MPL for the last year. As I was reading through the article, I kind of drifted with my train of thought and when I found my name I had a “Oh wait, I’m actually in here, sweet!” moment. And there was also a bonus for Czech Magic community, as Tomáš Pokorný was invited to Rivals instead of Chris Kvartek (who started working for Wizards instead). Congratulations to both of them!

Grzegorz ‘Urlich’ Kowalski is doing a pretty sweet thing for the Innistrad Championship – sharing his testing thoughts and deck list on his Patreon channel. While this definitely costs him some equity in the tournament, it’s a huge net positive for the Magic community and I love to see something like this.

After watching the whole Worlds Championship and playing 20 matches with the card, I finally found out Unexpected Windfall is an instant.

Unexpected Windfall

We have a deck list submission in three days and I just found out we need two decks and not just one. Time to subscribe to a few Patreons I guess.

Turns out that Ivan did some testing in the end and we have some (hopefully) solid decks for the tournament. In Standard, it looks like UR is a clear winner, but in Historic, it’s not so obvious as we/he can’t decide between Jund and Jeskai.

 

Header - December

There’s a new format, “Alchemy,” coming up on Magic Arena, which will be Standard with a few small tweaks possible only in an online environment. I’ve seen a lot of positivity and some negativity around this announcement, which confirms my suspicion that you can’t make everyone happy.

 

The start of December also brought news about something called MSL, which looks like some sort of show matches for streamers, which I don’t really have a coherent opinion about.

 

The Pro Tour/Innistrad Championship is happening tomorrow so it’s time to test a bit. I had to google like four decks from the top five of both metagame breakdowns as I’ve never heard about them before so you could say I know what’s going on now. I also had Ivan Floch and Ondřej “the expert on everything” Stráský to come up with sideboard guides on all those matchups so I would be surprised to not see all of us in top eight.

I was a bit worried that my preparation was lacking, but Alexander Hayne pushed it to a new extreme.

 

After reading the comments, it turns out he’s playing the same decks as Ivan who is playing the same decks as me, except for one of the two decks, so not really. Also it is kind of scary that option three in Alex’s poll is very likely correct now that I think about it.

Looking at metagame breakdown, Stan, Ondřej and I are the only ones playing aggro Jund, so either we broke the metagame by not testing or our deck is not as amazing as we thought.

Ondřej took preparation a little bit more seriously after submitting, and his journey from Bronze to low Gold went very smoothly.

 

The tournament has started and my prayers for an easy round one opponent couldn’t have missed more as I’m playing Seth Manfield. Luckily for me, he’s playing a GW Heliod deck, which I have seen deck lists of, and let Ivan explain to me how the combo works, so I’m well prepared. I had reasonable draws against his weaker ones and both times Mayhem Devil was too much for him to handle. Stan also played against the same deck and never saw it before, and he thought the opponent just brought a draft deck so I guess he won as well.

However, Ondřej got really unlucky in his match, mulliganing to five and whiffing with Company. I can’t help it but feel sorry for him, his streak of bad luck is just infinite and I really hope he gets at least a little bit lucky soon.

After winning match two, I found myself in the feature match against Lee Shi Tian, another MPL player, who was piloting Goblins. Once again, Mayhem Devil(s) proved to be a little bit too much, even in the second game where they managed to keep like 20 Goblins at bay and then score lethal without me attacking once. Feels sweet to finally win on a feature match, especially after getting farmed on them by Alexander Hayne all the time. Stanislav also won his feature match, but he lost a round earlier so it looks like I am the only one from our group with a clean start.

I’ve enough time to write during the tournament as it’s actually taking two hours for us to start Standard rounds. It’ll be hard not to fall asleep during round seven at 4 a.m.

I lost my first Standard match in a super flooding fashion while not playing exactly tight against Christian Hauck and I could already see classic rollercoaster slow roll of 3-0 into 3-4 happening, but luckily I had great draws and quite a bit of fortune in my next match. I’m 4-1 so far and day two locked, same score as Czech top model Ondřej Stráský (and based on Twitter, basically every pro player I know), so can’t complain.

I immediately lost a close mirror to top-decked one-of Hullbreaker Horror against Yuuki Ichikawa and thought I’m just going to narrowly make day two after a fabulous start, but not throwing in the towel just yet. The final match of the day is against Mono-Green was probably one of the closest three games I ever played, as I managed to deal exactly lethal with one life in game one thanks to quadruple Time Walk, and the story was very similar in the third game. It’s 5-2 for me and for Ondřej and Stan as well, thrilled about this result, especially after playing against four MPL players.

The second day started off well. I managed to beat Nico Bohny on UW Auras and Shintaro Ishimura with Mono-Black. The Mono-Black victory was especially sweet as I won game one where I just thought about conceding on turn three. I’m 7-2, but unfortunately there’s only two more rounds of Historic before we have to switch to Standard again.

STOP THE SWISS!!

Time for a feature match again, only this time it will be a nightmare matchup. It took six Historic rounds for me to face a noncreature deck, and I had to read basically every card in Camillo Lukesch’s deck. His Jeskai Lotus Field would probably be too much to handle regardless, but a mulligan on four in the first game and a singleton Cinderclasm in the second made it so that match wasn’t close at all. Silver lining would be that I used my “mull to four misfortune card” in a matchup like this. 7-3 for both me and Stráča.

 

Historic Jeskai Lotus Field by Camillo Lukesch

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7-3 quickly turned into 7-4 after losing to yet another deck I haven’t seen before, GW Enchantress, so we moved to Standard to play a ton of Epiphany mirrors, which I’m starting to hate. I lost my first mirror immediately so as usual, all my hopes and dreams are getting crushed in the endgame, 7-5. Yet another mirror right after against Jan Merkel, here I finally broke the losing streak as he flooded horribly in game one and missed third land drop in game two. Good times

In the meantime, Simon Gortzen is farming Ondřej, and looks like our team is out of top eight contention. Not exactly a shocker as our combined playtest time was roughly four hours, but it still hurts.

I knew LSV started with 2-3 on the first day, so I had to double check when I saw his tweet about a 9-3 score. A nice comeback with a reasonable shot at top eight, it would be a sweet story if that happened.

 

Christian Hauck, my first loss this tournament, is crushing it in feature matches and he’s 11-2 right now, which is a soft lock for top eight. Chat is also loving the fact that he’s not gaining life with a kicked Inscription of Abundance for no apparent reason, choosing only two modes every time.

Inscription of Abundance

Stan went to sleep after round 14, so we had to bring him back. Ivan is trying to convince him that there are three rounds still to be played (and it’s 2 a.m. here in Prague), and now Stan has no idea what to believe. Anyway, we all won this round and the one before as well (mirrors forever), so it’s 9-5 right now for all three of us, but I’m not sure I can make top 16 here for some extra dolares if I win the last round.

Going into round 15, I really didn’t want another mirror match. I was getting super tired and it would be a fourth one in a row, so I got paired against a total beast, William “Huey” Jensen, with Izzet Epiphany. I decided to just slam my cards instantly and see what happens, and since I drew the ultra nuts both games, I managed to secure the final 10-5 score within 15 minutes. Overall, the tournament was nice and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, but I have to say that now I know where all this “ban Epiphany” vibe is coming from. It was good enough for 22nd place, Stan finished 35th and Ondřej 49th.

Top eight is stacked with Japanese players. Yuta Takahashi did not waste a single moment after winning the Worlds Championship and jumped right back into Sunday action.

In the end, it was a Japanese player, Yuuki Ichikawa, who managed to beat the best player in round six and also some fine players in the top eight to claim the title with the breakout deck of the tournament, Golgari Food. Simon Gortzen put up a good fight in the finals and even won one out of three Best-of-Three matches with Izzet Phoenix, but the matchup is just too bad to get lucky twice.

After rewatching my feature match (my only recorded match since my OBS was malfunctioning), I found out I had lethal in this spot which I unsurprisingly completely missed (I have Priest of Forgotten Gods, Thoughtseize, Woe Strider and Cauldron Familiar in graveyard). I was getting scolded on Facebook by Ivan right after the feature match for not using the Priest/not winning here. Pretty crazy he saw this.

 

Header - Onward to 2022

Looking forward, I have to say that the future of competitive Magic is looking uncertain to say the least. However, Magic is a battle-hardened game that made it through many different storms, and while Magic as a full time job is probably gone, Magic as a game is definitely here to stay.

I would still love to see some sort of Pro Player system, even though it’s very unlikely I’ll be a part of it. But then again, I thought my last big competitive event was Pro Tour Barcelona in 2012, so who knows what the future might bring.

As for now, I’m enjoying the break from League Weekends and I’m surprisingly hyped for two upcoming Pro Tours in 2022, as I have a “reasonable” shot to qualify for the World Championship this year and that would be an awesome final dot of my Magic career.

Alright, I guess this is it! 2021 was quite something in every possible way, and it was fun to just write down my thoughts while it was happening. I would like to thank my girlfriend for providing incredible support during stressful League Weekends/Pro Tours, and for actually listening to my complaints when I draw four lands in a row on ladder. I would like to thank Ondřej, Stan and mainly Ivan for teaching me how to play Magic during the year. I would like to thank other League members for being extra nice and friendly no matter the stakes and situation, especially Toffel. I would like to thank the universe (not sure who else) that I was able to be part of this amazing journey. I would like to thank the employees of Wizards who put up a fight for competitive play so that people like me could be a part of it. And I would like to thank you, my fellow reader, for reading all this incoherent text I put together.

Have an awesome 2022!

 

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